European Mink Reintroduction
To breed and reintroduce European minks into their former range in Estonia
The European mink, Mustela lutreola, is a critically endangered small carnivore in Europe. It once inhabited a vast territory from the Ural mountains to eastern Spain and from central Finland to the Black Sea. Since the beginning of the 20th century its range has decreased drastically. At present, isolated populations can be found in only one-fifth of its former range. The species' disappearance is caused by multiple factors like loss of habitats, overexploitation and, above all, the impact of the alien American mink, Mustela vison, through competition for resources and direct aggression. The species is likely to go extinct if the conservation measures fail.
The European mink is included in Appendix II of the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Habitat as a species needing strict protection. In the IUCN Action Plan For Conservation of Mustelids and Viverrids, it is considered a high priority species to preserve.
A programme to save the European mink from extinction was initiated in 1991with the following goals:
- To maintain genetically and demographically sound captive populations in the frame of the EEP Programme.
- To establish populations in two Estonian islands inaccessible for the American mink: Hiiumaa (1000 km²) and Saaremaa (2400 km²).
- To secure the survival of these two established island population.
The project is divided into two parts: ex situ and in situ:
Ex situ: 14 wild founders were obtained from Russia in 1995 - 2000 and regular conservation breeding was achieved in the mid-1990s. Since then an ex situ population of around 100 individuals has been maintained in a special off-exhibit breeding facility at the Tallinn Zoo. The breeding operation has been a source for other breeding facilities as well as for the reintroduction operation in Hiiumaa Island.
The in situ actions started with a feasibility study in Hiiumaa Island to evaluate its suitability for establishing a mink population. In 1998 - 2000 the alien American mink population was removed from this island. Since 2000, around 30 - 60 European mink have been released yearly in Hiiumaa Island with the aim to establish a sound island population. The main focus has been to find the most effective way to use the captive population for establishing a wild population. This appears to be far more complicated than assumed with such a specialised small carnivore as the European mink.
Apart from the releases of the European mink in Hiiumaa Island, serious attention has been paid to the improvement of riparian habitats in the island and to the amphibian populations as the main food resource of the mink.
WAZA Conservation Project 05040 is implemented by the Tallinn Zoo, Zoologischer Garten Rostock, Rotterdam Zoo, Gaia Park, Helsinki Zoo, Denver Zoo, Thoiry Zoo, and is supported by the Darwinian Initiative, EU LIFE Programme, Zoos Help Foundation, Bernadine Foundation, Friends of Helsinki Zoo and WAZA.
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